A battle over cold ironing work in the Pacific Northwest could disrupt the collective bargaining process for some 22,000 West Coast dockworkers as they approach the third month working without a contract.
A dispute between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the International Association of Machinists (IAM), along with terminal operator SSA Marine, over which union handles the task of cold ironing ships is now a matter before the National Labor Relations Board. The case was opened last Friday.
Cold ironing powers ships using resources from the shore in an effort to cut back on emissions.
Coercion, picketing and strike actions and forcing employers to discriminate or retaliate are listed among the allegations against the ILWU, according to the NLRB docket. ILWU accused IAM and SSA of working together to keep its members from the work.
This isn’t the first time the two unions have clashed over work in Seattle, with the NLRB awarding maintenance and repair work to IAM workers over the ILWU in 2020.
The ILWU, which represents more than 22,000 West Coast dockworkers, contends the work was granted to its members under prior collective bargaining agreements with employers, represented by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA).
The rift comes as the ILWU and PMA are hashing out a new collective bargaining agreement for West Coast dockworkers during which time the two sides have remained largely silent outside of the most recent statement last month confirming they’re still at the negotiating table, following a Wall Street Journal report that talks had stalled. In July employers and labor confirmed a tentative agreement on worker health benefits.
The ILWU broke its silence to raise the possibility the disagreement ultimately undermines negotiations on a new contract for all West Coast dockworkers. The previous contract expired July 1.
The ILWU contends it will have to “focus its attention, otherwise spent in bargaining, on defending the preservation of ILWU in Seattle.”
“We are shocked that SSA is taking such an action, and we are currently regrouping to determine how to proceed in negotiations while we watch an employer violate the very provision of the contract over which the parties were bargaining,” ILWU coast committeeman Cameron Williams said in a statement Tuesday.
ILWU international president Willie Adams called on the NLRB to honor the current agreement set in place with the PMA that awards the work to the union’s members.
The debate over the Seattle work follows a report this week from supply chain trade Journal of Commerce that said dockworkers at the ports of Oakland and Seattle-Tacoma pumped the breaks on work last week as part of a negotiating tactic.
The publication reported ILWU members would not cross an environmental protest picket line in Seattle last week, citing worker safety. It also said that Oakland workers started their shifts last week half an hour later, took breaks at the same time and the union scheduled half the typical number of clerks on a shift.
The ILWU declined to comment on the reported slowdowns, while the PMA did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Retailers and other industry groups have been closely tracking the West Coast dockworker negotiations, given the fragility of the country’s transportation systems as shipping heads into the peak holiday selling period.
Shippers are also awaiting the outcome of the collective bargaining process for some 115,000 railroad workers across 12 unions as they vote on whether to ratify tentative agreements struck by their leadership and employers.